I recently visited Christine Boxall on her acreage just west of Legal where she grows vegetables to sell along with some baked items at a couple of local farmers markets. Christine and her husband have approx. 5.5 acres but it was a garden that was 5 feet in diameter and 4 feet tall that had me intrigued and the reason I came for the visit.
Last summer Christine built a herb spiral, and this year she was reaping the rewards of her creative endeavor. A herb spiral is a vertical garden based on permaculture ideas of working less in the garden but reaping more produce. Herb spirals are a great first permaculture project to get your feet wet with, these beautiful and practical gardens are perfect for any homeowner even if your yard is only the size of a postage stamp.
I asked Christine what inspired her to create a herb spiral. “I attended a course hosted by Kenton Zerbin ** on permaculture, and thought this was one part of the course that I could manage to build myself. I like the idea of water conservation and ease of care.” So she did just that, in two days with little to no cost she created her herb spiral, and here are some additional reasons why it was a good idea.
Benefits of the herb spiral:
- Grow more food in less space
- Get the benefits of several microclimates in one spot
- Convenient, easy access for maintenance and harvesting
- Simple to irrigate
- Low cost to build
- Healthy herbs for your enjoyment
Herb spirals can be made from just about any type of material from bricks, stones, willow, pipes and even gabion cages filled with rocks. Any material that will allow you to form a spiral shape and will hold soil in place will work. Christine’s spiral was constructed from 4x4 posts, which she had lying around her property, so the cost to build this was minimal. If you search Google or Pinterest for herb spiral images you will see all the different concepts and designs people have created.
The design for the spiral is not without purpose, by having the spiral raised in the center, spiraling down to ground level, lots of microclimates are created that support different plants. Plants at the top of the spiral will have to be ones that like dryer and hotter conditions. Plants on the north side will enjoy shade and more moisture while plants at the bottom will receive the greatest abundance of moisture so plants that thrive with moisture consistency will do well here. Christine grows several types of herbs such as lavender, basil, mint, chamomile and borage in her spiral, all of which she uses for personal use or for her baking that she takes to the farmer’s markets.
The advantages of having such diversity in a small footprint of space extends beyond convenience to the chef. The nature of the herb spiral with the close planting of different species creates beneficial relationships between the herbs (companion planting) and can create an environment that benefits the garden as a whole. Some plants are great pest deterrents such as marigold and basil, and others such as lemon balm, and marjoram attract insects like ladybugs and bees that are beneficial to surrounding gardens and feed on the pests. Borage and Chamomile are good for improving the taste of neighbouring plants as well as being visually appealing.
Here are some of the herbs that are in Christine’s spiral and what she uses them for:
Borage: This herb has cucumber flavoured leaves that she uses dried for tea or fresh in other drinks, and the blue starry flowers are used fresh in salads or frozen into ice cubes as a drink garnish. Bees love this plant and so it aids in attracting beneficial bugs and pollinators to the garden.
Chamomile: She makes a tea using the dried flowers infused in boiling water, it helps boost the immune system, it aids in sleep and calms upset stomachs. Make sure that the yellow and white flowers are not the scentless chamomile noxious weed variety.
Basil: She makes a pesto using 3 cups of fresh basil leaves, 1 ½ cups of pine nuts, chopped walnuts or almonds, 4 cloves of garlic, 1 cup olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Add all ingredients to a food processor adding the oil in last. Store in the fridge.
Lavender: Add 6 flower spikes of fresh or dried lavender to 2 cups of sugar, seal for a week, then use in the baking of cupcakes or custard dishes for an extra little flavor surprise.
Christine loves her hassle free herb spiral, she is letting the plants get established and is finding out which herbs do well and which ones she needs to find a better location for. It’s easy to water and takes nothing to control the weeds. It’s a beautiful focal point as you drive onto their acreage, it adds interest to what is normally a horizontal garden view and it’s a great conversation piece. Her only wish is that she had built it just a bit bigger so that she could fit more strawberry plants in it.
Herb spirals are only one of the many garden designs that were created based on permaculture principals. Here is a website that you could go to with good info about herb spirals and a video from Bill Mollison and his take on it.
** If you are interested in taking some local permaculture courses and learning about herb spirals and other permaculture design concepts I encourage you to check out Kenton Zerbin’s website http://kzpermaculture.ca . Kenton grew up in Sturgeon County and is now doing amazing things as a permaculture designer and instructor. He often hosts an Introduction to Permaculture workshop in Morninville and surrounding areas, so visit his website, subscribe to his newsletter and be inspired by the permaculture way of gardening.
You can find me on Facebook and Instagram as The Wheelbarrow Gardener or check out my website at www.thewheelbarrowgardener.com
If you know of someone who has a farm, garden or anything special that is agricultural based that I could highlight in a blog please contact me.
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